How to Deal When Your Spouse is Suffering From Burnout

Burnout can be brutal. It kills your productivity, it makes you feel stressed all the time, it leaves you exhausted and detached, and it can make you question whether you have ever or will ever do anything of value.

It's bad enough to find yourself in such a state, but it can be as bad or worse to find someone you love there. When that person is your spouse, someone you love deeply and with whom you are walking through life, it can cause all sorts of difficult feelings.

You don't have to get stuck there, though. There are good ways to support yourself and your spouse when he or she is walking through a season of burnout.

1. Recognize It

Burnout can be misdiagnosed as depression (which often goes alongside it), anxiety, and other disorders. At its most basic, burnout is a state of chronic stress that, over time, leads to a whole host of other symptoms. Depression and anxiety can be part of those, but stress is at the core in burnout.

Learn to recognize when your spouse is stressed. Different people respond differently to stressors, but you are in a position to know how your spouse responds. When you see this sort of stress over a period of time, tell your spouse what you have observed. If you can't do that, recognize that burnout may be on the horizon.

2. Don't Panic

Having someone close to you experience burnout can be terrifying. When they lose productivity, when it takes them forever to do something they once did easily, like write an e-mail or empty the dishwasher, it's easy to wonder if that person you love will ever come back, or if this is your new normal.

When these feelings come, remind yourself that they are normal but that you don't need to panic. Burnout is serious, but it is a condition that rest and wise counsel can do much to alleviate. It may take a while, but your spouse will return. Hopefully, they will be happier and healthier on the other side of burnout, because they will have learned to care for themselves better.

3. Get Support

Walking through a spouse's burnout isn't easy, and you will need people to walk alongside you as you offer support, if you want your marriage to survive and grow. These can be friends, relatives, or even mental health professionals. In fact, you might be best served by getting support from all three.

You will have a lot to talk about when it comes to your spouse's burnout, and it's important that you don't put too much of that on any one person, or that you ask friends for solutions or suggestions that only counselors can give. A counselor can help you figure out what you can and cannot offer your spouse during this time, what you need to do to take care of yourself, and whether there's anything you can change in your marriage that might help your spouse. Friends and family can help you implement these ideas, and can listen to your feelings.

Occasionally, it may be appropriate for you to seek help for your spouse, too. If he or she is so burnt out that they can't even search for a counselor or figure out what the next step is, you may need to do that for them. In the end, though, it will help your spouse to seek out their own solutions, so do as little as possible in their name. Instead, encourage them to act on their own.

4. Encourage Them in Positive Directions

What your spouse needs will depend a lot on the details of their burnout. As their spouse, you can encourage them to move toward what they need. Maybe an extended vacation would help them get the rest they need, or spending more time with friends would help them leave their stress at work. Maybe they need to join a gym or a bowling league or a reading group.

Whatever they need, you can encourage them in that direction. That doesn't mean you sign them up for things you think might be helpful, but that you listen to them (and to their therapist, if that is appropriate) and help them remember to take steps toward rest and relaxation rather than deeper into stress.

5. Don't Take Responsibility

Even though you want to do as much as you can to help your spouse, you need to remember that neither their descent into burnout nor their recovery depends on you. You are there to be a companion, to help them walk this hard road and to walk alongside them as appropriate, but it's not your fault. They aren't burnt out because of you and their recovery isn't in your hands, either.

If you are doing well, it will be easy to try to drag your burnt out spouse up by their bootstraps to join you. This is taking too much on yourself, though. In the end, they need to walk through this dark place and come out of it on their own. If you do it for them, they may get better but they won't really recover. The truth is, they got themselves into this place and they need to get themselves out. Being their companion will help, but being their savior will not.

6. Take Care of Yourself

Having a spouse with burnout is hard. It's stressful for you and that takes its toll. If you are not careful to alleviate that stress, you risk falling into burnout or depression yourself. So figure out what you need to do to take care of you and then do those things, which may include exercising more, sleeping a little more, or spending intentional time with your friends.

Going through a time where your spouse is burnt out can actually strengthen your marriage. In the end, you will both be stronger people and you will know that your relationship can survive hard things. Work toward this and that time of burnout doesn't have to be wasted time.

Has your spouse suffered burnout? What helped you deal?

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Guest's picture

How I wish I would have seen this article 1 year ago. My husband used the words "burn out" but it never registered - my efforts to "fix" things between us backfired!

What can you do when the burned out spouse decides his marriage is what is hindering his happiness and even though his job is miserable, physically he cannot play the sports or participate in the hobbies he once did, and he has distanced himself from all his friends and family - he thinks leaving the marriage (and kids) will make him happy. He feels joy for nothing and "forces" himself with coworkers and his kids but me as his wife is not even on the stove let alone a back burner.

I once thought it was a depression or mid-life crisis but he doesn't have the other symptoms when I read about those things. He went through such intense work stress for so long that it just pulled him into a pit that I can't see him anymore. I went through my own depression and was "not there for him" during part of this intense stress and so he completely shut down on our marriage.

Is there any hope of the love and affinity returning? How can I help him with this without making him feel worse about himself as a husband - as I know I have done with my need to have "relationship talks" so we can put everything on the table - that's how I "fix" things but it's clearly the wrong thing for him and I only succeeded in pushing him further and further away so that now he's not only on the "divorce" fence, he's actually hanging on the other side with just his fingertips holding him on....

I love my husband. I believe in our marriage and our vows. I don't want my kids to live with divorce - I did that as a kid and it sucked! I don't want to give up and I don't want to walk away especially when I know he's in such a bad place he can't see the Forrest through the trees.

We have found a therapist but it's hard because we are in such different places...

Any ideas or tips would be so greatly appreciated!